Friday, 22 February 2013

To Serialise Or Not To Serialise?

Or, ‘On Making Rough Drafts Public’.

Originally I was going to have this Friday’s post be about The Evolution of Setting, but I couldn’t remember half the points I wanted to cover, and I decided that I should probably save most of these backward-looking posts for when I’ve actually, y’know, finished a first draft or something similarly outlandish. So instead I’m going to talk about an important consideration for any writer who wants to build up a following online: namely, how polished does my writing have to be before I post it on the Internet?

Above all, the issue of online publishing is integral to fanfiction, because fanfic writers don’t generally have the option of publishing through traditional means. (Unless you’re writing a new Star Wars book or a BBC novel of a television series, like Doctor Who or this Heroes novel I found in a charity shop once). We serialise our work, promote it and connect with our audience online. Some fanfiction writers post stories purely to gain as wide an audience as possible, and others gear the content of their work around reader feedback and suggestions. (I’m not just talking about those writers who whine, “at least 10 ppl need 2 revue dis or im NEVER POSTIN AGAIN!!!” Although they count too).

Combine this very Internet-centric form of writing with the total freedom to publish content online without any kind of quality control, and you end up with an infamous mess of terrible writing, idealised and unbalanced characters, self-insertion, gratuitous porn and more. Granted, a lot of this can also be traced back to the immaturity of most fanfic writers (who typically start writing in their early teens), but it sets a precedent such that even those more experienced writers who normally hold their work to a higher standard don’t tend to try too hard with fanfiction. The expectations of your typical fanfic reader are similarly lowered, as it’s generally accepted that anyone who expects quality from their reading on a regular basis won’t be looking for it in fanfiction.

So last November during NaNo 2012 I started a thread in the Fanfiction forum entitled, 'Serialising your fic online during NaNo?'* Given that NaNo is infamous for producing an extremely rough draft full of dirty wordcount-boosting tricks, challenges and whatever random drivel was needed to get your muse going again at the time, I was curious as to whether or not my fellow fanficcers would be serialising their work online as they wrote it. Would they choose to wait until the month was up to revise and post it all? Run each chapter past a beta reader first before publishing?

Responses were more or less split down the middle, with slightly more novellers planning to serialise their fic online during the month than not. Many of them cited reader reviews as a motivating factor to keep going with the challenge. Some were planning to post only after they had a good idea of where the plot was going; others had plans to release their work to a limited online audience, such as a small writers’ forum or a friends-only Livejournal.

I announced in the original post that I was going to be serialising my fic on and AO3 during the month, but it didn’t take me long to revise that plan. Plot holes gaped wide open from the start (some of them are still gaping, four months on); research needed doing, characters were unformed and their roles unclear, events unfolded onto the page in the wrong order, and I skipped writing large sections of the story to try and keep myself interested. Standard first-draft stuff, but not the kind of thing I would be comfortable posting online under the guise of a finished fic. Even to

It became apparent pretty quickly that I wasn’t going to win NaNoWriMo with ‘The Neverland’, so my thoughts started turning to the long term: things I could do to motivate myself after November was over. The idea of making a blog appealed to me. The difference with having my own blog, as opposed to publishing to a fanfiction site, would be that I had my own space with no rules about posting completed pieces, or excerpts in the right order; no content ratings; I could make it look however I wanted and include other types of media; and I could mix up the story itself with posts about my research and writing process. I love talking about my writing process.

After NaNo was over, I was talking to YukiAme about my plan for the blog, and she drew my attention to a discussion thread* in the forums about writing blogs/websites and using them to build up an audience for your work. Immediately I noticed there was a markedly different attitude from the casual, “I might beta my fic I guess” attitude of fanficcers towards posting fanfic. Of course, fanficcers are primarily hobbyists and not necessarily aspiring professionals looking to create a polished image for themselves. And there are fanficcers who have a higher-standards approach towards their fic, as you’ll see from the thread I linked earlier. Even so, comments like
“I'd never show anyone anything that wasn't polished to absolute perfection” did give me pause. I do want to be a professional writer in the near future and yet I was planning to do the exact opposite of what most of the posters in that thread were advocating. Publishing rough, first-draft excerpts of an incomplete novel without any particular thought to putting across a professional image in my blog or writing.

Now as you can probably tell, those reservations didn’t stop me from deciding to create this blog. I’m used to writing my fanfiction with an active and participating audience, and I think the benefits of what I’m doing outweigh the negatives. Primarily, I was looking for something to keep me working on ‘The Neverland’ when every other NaNo project I’ve started so far has been shelved, incomplete. A surprising amount of people had expressed interest in the story when they heard the idea, and I wanted to let them know what I’d been doing with it and give them something to follow. It gives me a testing ground to get feedback on techniques like Chapter 1’s chat thread transcript from a select audience (currently very select), allows me to build on the world of the novel and the research I’ve done for anyone who’s interested, and gives me a place to share awesome things I’ve found along the way.

There’s also the fact that if I were looking to present a professional image to the Internet, I probably wouldn’t be publishing works like this one. (NSFW. Also crackfic).

With that said, the argument for presenting a professional writerly image online is still a strong one, especially in an age where it’s becoming harder and harder to keep your Internet identity separate from your real-life one. There might come a day when I go around the ‘net frantically erasing embarrassments like the creation above you before future employers find them.

At the moment, though, I’m enjoying the freedom of posting what I like, how I like. I’m planning to do one more revision on Chapter 1 and then put it up on in the hopes of luring more readers over here where the real action is taking place. ;) I might actually stick to the update schedule then!

And if you’ve been sitting there thinking “That’s great, but I would love just to have a first draft of my writing so that I can worry about fun things like posting it!” then my friend Lho Brockhoff has some advice for you. :D

*All NaNoWriMo links active until the forums are wiped in September 2013


  1. Hooray for Elder Beads. But yeah, it's a good point about internet identity. I can see how some might think they wouldn't be taken seriously as a writer if they post anything less than professional standard, but I think there's nothing wrong with showing a first draft. I mean, if you make it clear it's not the finished product, I don't think it does harm. It'd be cool as well seeing the difference between the draft and the final product, which shows people more about your writing process. I guess there's the worry that people might not want to bother reading it twice though. Tbh, I don't think even your drafts are anywhere near as bad as a lot of fics out there x3

    1. (Finally, my VPN has let me reply!)

      Thank you xD I do worry that people will get bored of reading the same stuff from draft to draft. Like when I reposted the excerpt from my NaNo profile, I included a bit of extra context to give people new things to read.

      I also realise that I can't keep posting excerpts forever or else I'll wind up posting the whole thing, but disjointed and in the wrong order. x3 I like giving people a peek at what's to come, but posting chapters means I write longer chunks and get to grips with the story's overall chronology. At least if I were serialising this on, I'd be forced to form a coherent narrative with my writing as I pushed out updates. I like the freedom that the blog gives me, allowing me to post what I want, but it also takes away the incentive to write a well-ordered story. I can write fragments of scenes and claim I've achieved something; but eventually I'm going to have to join those up to form a whole story, and the more fragmented my writing process, the harder that will be.

      I'm just thinking aloud now really. xD

  2. To me, posting a "first draft" is dangerous stuff. I've let people read my 1st drafts, and I don't do it any more, no matter how much they ask. It's not worth it. After the fifth "do you know you've missed a comma in this sentence here?", I'm ready to rip up the ms and the reader and feed them to the basement wood burner.

    To me, a better idea would be to post a slightly polished (or, maybe, a sandpapered version) of the first draft of a section of a chapter. Two hundred words max. All right, five hundred max. Or perhaps, if it's a new work, and you're looking for feedback, post a synopsis and perhaps a couple of detailed chapter plans. But showing "what you've written" before you've had a chance to pass it through the rough-edge-smoothing-machine is not a good idea. But then, what do I know?

    By the way, do you have a source for them thar Elder Wands? I've looked on Amazon and Ebay, but I can't seem to locate them. And are they dishwasher safe?

    1. Haha, I think you must have some very observant friends with high punctuation standards! So far I haven’t had any comments of that nature on excerpts I’ve posted to this blog (though if you do spot any missed commas, I’m happy for you to let me know xD). But I definitely know where you’re coming from on the potential dangers of becoming infuriated and demoralised before you’ve even had a chance to redraft.

      I’ve been fairly picky with the excerpts I post here, only putting up those which I think give a good account of the story and my writing, although they do tend to be rather longer than 500 words x3 Still, I have a lot more of the story written which is too rough even for this blog. I have standards for what I’m willing to post online, but I don’t polish to a blinding shine like the commenters in that second NaNo thread were talking of doing.

      As for posting chapter plans, it’s a thought… but I don’t know whether my readers would find that too interesting. I want them to get something out of this blog, rather than have it be a workshop where people come to critique my writing and ideas. Feedback was part of my motivation for making the blog, but mostly I want it to be informative and entertaining. I’d like to attract different sorts of people, other than just my friends, to read it. They give me their opinions; I give them extra info about my writing process, the research, the characters, and recommend some cool stuff that I’ve encountered along the way. Everybody wins!

      About that Elder Wand you wanted – I found something that looks awfully like it: I hear they also come in pretty colours! And they’re totally washable X3